Filling the gap between today’s talent and tomorrow’s leaders

Succession PuzzleLike it or not, leadership will turn over as a function of retirement or resignation.

In fact, according to OPM data, from 2011 to 2013 total federal government retirements increased by 40 percent.

As today’s GS 7, 8 and 9s move toward 10, 11 and 12s and beyond, there must be an identification of the talent pipeline—those high potential individuals with the skills, capabilities, and desire to take on more responsibility.

A talent pipeline is essential because:

  • A feeder pool to GS 10 through SES positions needs to be established to determine the set of people to develop. With constraints of time and budget, investments must be made in an actionable set of individuals.
  • Once the pipeline is identified, there is retentive value in sharing that one is included in the planning of future leadership roles. Of course, there are no guarantees; however, when aware of future potential and the investment in development, there is a greater likelihood of retention with the government and enhanced engagement.
  • Further, the pipeline should and can be stratified to understand where critical talent exists. Critical talent consists of those individuals who can perform and contribute in more than one way. For example, critical talent should be able to work across multiple agencies and in a variety of roles or functions. Their value and contributions represent horizontal possibilities rather than vertical limitations.

How to invest in future leaders?

  • Identification: Chief human capital officers would organize a government-wide effort to establish criteria for high potential candidates. With the identification of common criteria, a framework for evaluation would be developed by chief learning officers. The evaluation framework would consist of common tools, processes, and templates to evaluate, nominate, and build an inventory of candidates to consider. The final selection of pipeline candidates would occur in a discussion among senior agency leadership (a small group who ensures confidentiality and maximum opportunity for healthy debate). The final product would be a targeted and manageable list of individuals that would become part of a high potential watch list. This exercise would be repeated once every two years to ensure the vitality of the process and identify additional future leaders. It would be critical to conduct a semi-annual review of progress.
  • Development: Given the 70/20/10 approach to development, several low cost, highly effective techniques are available for investing in the development of high potential talent. For instance, experiential development can consist of job rotations: challenging assignments monitored by a mentor and assigned reading with follow-up discussion groups. Moreover, in the spirit of public service, participation with and contributions to community and civic organizations can focus on and improve teamwork and presentation skills. In addition, we should not forget about the core, basic, and critical leadership skills that can only be acquired in the classroom. It is critical for high potential future leaders to learn and work with a common leadership language. Because these individuals will likely rotate throughout government, they should use a common leadership language and framework to ensure consistency among agencies. It is also helpful to refer and relate back to a common framework when these future leaders meet as a group to discuss the current and future state of the government.
  • Self Awareness: Any development needs to be accompanied by a focus on self awareness. Self awareness is of utmost importance for future leaders—it is the critical ingredient to ensuring blind spots are identified and avoided. In this context, blind spots result in a lack of appreciation for conflict, organization distraction, the political process, and ineffective communication. For instance, 360-degree feedback is an excellent tool to help individuals improve their awareness of how others perceive and react to them.

Opportunity Cost 

Of course, talent pipelines and succession planning take time and some level of investment. It is always easy to ignore this initiative given lack of time, budget constraints, or time away from the job. The question is not: Should we engage in identifying and developing our future leaders? The question is: What happens if we avoid this critical step toward continuing our progress as a leader among nations?

 

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